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Accord but no admission as Putin and Sissi talk Sinai

The Russian and Egyptian presidents have agreed to "close cooperation" between their security services. Russian officials had earlier affirmed that a bomb brought down a passenger jet over the Sinai Peninsula.

Though Egypt has not confirmed that a bomb brought down a Russian plane over Sinai in October, Wednesday's call between Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Vladimir Putin could help resume flights between the two countries.

"In the context of the efforts to find the criminals involved in the terrorist act against the Russian airliner, close cooperation was agreed on between the security services of Russia and Egypt," the Kremlin announced after Putin and Sissi spoke.

Alexander Bortnikov, director of Russia's FSB intelligence agency, said a "homemade explosive device equivalent to 1 kilogram (2 pounds) of TNT" would explain the scattering of debris over such a large area. "One can unequivocally say that it was a terrorist act," Bortnikov said.

The Airbus came apart at 30,000 feet (9,000 meters) 20 minutes after takeoff from Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St. Petersburg, killing all 224 people on board in Russia's deadliest aviation disaster.

The Kremlin hasn't blamed any specific group. However, an Egyptian faction of the "Islamic State" ("IS") claimed responsibility. IS has become the target of deadly airstrikes by Russia in Syria.

'Defeat and prevent'

Citing the FSB, Russia's "Kommersant" newspaper reported on Wednesday that a passenger had likely placed the bomb under a window seat near the plane's rear. That would explain why the plane's tail section detached and a hole measuring 1 meter (about 3 feet) formed in the part of the fuselage with signs of an explosion.

Following similar decisions by other nations, Russia suspended flights to Egypt on November 6, allowing only return trips for passengers without luggage, but continued to play down bomb suspicions. On Tuesday though, Putin pledged to find and "punish" those responsible for the attack and his security service has offered a reward of $50 million (47 million euros) to help find the culprits.

Egypt's economy depends on tourism, and officials say they'll wait for the results of a national probe before giving a verdict on what brought the plane down. They did say on Tuesday, however, that they would enhance security in airports around the country, acknowledging at least the possibility the plane had been "targeted by a terrorist attack."

"Establishing security and restoring stability to Middle Eastern countries that are experiencing disputes will effectively help defeat and prevent terrorism in many parts of the world," Sissi's office announced after the leaders spoke on Wednesday.

The attack is the bloodiest on a Russian target since the 2004 Beslan school massacre. The three-day siege by Chechen separatists led to the deaths of 385 people, 186 of them children, and drew allegations of a botched raid by security forces.

mkg/jtm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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